WASHINGTON, December 4, 2013 — Count me in as one of the rare Republicans who was happy to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hit the nuclear option, eliminating the possibility of a filibuster for presidential appointments requiring Senate approval.
A wave of Republican officials and conservative pundits have condemned this move as a blow to democracy. They have highlighted the abject hypocrisy of the Democrats who are now celebrating an end to the filibuster after decrying Republican threats to do the same when the GOP controlled the Senate.
Then-Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama condemned the threatened Republican power grab that would eliminate the need for 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate. But the most over the top remarks were those of Senator Joseph Biden, who labeled the Republican effort a violation of the Senate’s rules:
“Getting rid of the filibuster has long-term consequences. There’s one thing I’ve learned in my years here. Once you change the rules and surrender the Senate’s institutional power, you never get it back. And we’re about to break the rules to change the rules. I don’t want to hear about fair play from my friends. Under our rules, you’re required to get a two-thirds vote … I mean 60 votes to change the rules … you cannot change the Senate rules by a pure majority vote … This is what’s really going on here; the majority doesn’t want to hear what others have to say even if it’s the truth… The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play … I say to my friends on the Republican side, you may own the field right now, but you won’t own it forever. I pray God, when the Democrats take back control, we don’t make the kind of naked power grab you are doing.”
Now that the Democrats have control, they’ve suddenly found religion: This is a desperately needed reform. It’s easy to see how elected officials, concerned only about their own self-preservation and power, would flip-flop on this issue depending on who’s in and who’s out.
But rather than asking which side is the more hypocritical, we might ask why we ever had a filibuster in the first place. Before we are Democrats or Republicans, we are Americans, and we must all come to the conclusion that it is ridiculous to define a majority as being 60 percent instead of 50.1 percent. Super majorities are sometimes required, as when enacting constitutional amendments or piercing tax or debt caps on the local level. But Senate rules have required super majorities to get anything passed.
Why should we allow a minority to thwart the will of the majority? The safeguards James Madison embedded in our Constitution already provide protections to the minority. There is no need to pass rules that create a permanent gridlock within our democracy by allowing a small minority to become the tail that wags the dog.
It would be natural for Republicans to oppose this rule change since the previous rules kept the Obama administration from placing more far-left jurists on the federal courts. But the reality is that the nation voted for a Democratic president who has a right to make his appointments, just as a Republican would.
If the Republicans take control of the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, why would they want to be stymied from modifying ObamaCare by a minority of Democrats in the Senate? Once the people have spoken through the electoral process, let their representatives legislate. Minority rights have to be protected, but not at the expense of creating a perpetual standstill in Washington.
So to Senator Reid and his Democratic colleagues: Don’t just stop at repealing the filibuster for presidential appointments. Go all the way and take this dastardly procedure away once and for all. While your motives may be totally partisan and disingenuous, the goal is worthwhile nevertheless. And, by the way, your actions may indeed come back to bite you on the bottom before you know it.
Steve Levy is President of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm. He served as Suffolk County Executive 2004-2011, and as a NYS Assemblyman.
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